Fly fishing for trout is a roller coaster experience. When you find the right time and the right tackle, it’s pure adrenaline. Acrobatic splashes, long runs, and a beautiful fish on the end of the line. When the bite is off, the bite is off. Trout tend to be very finicky, so if you find something that works, stick to it. I have found the combination that has worked wonders for the past two weeks.
While fly fishing my favorite trout pond, I try to experiment and see what happens with a different pattern of fly, fished on the bottom, pulled just below the surface, fast and slow, drifting, changing colors and sizes of the same or different flies, and changing location of my casts. While the old adage, “match the hatch” is certainly true, I’ve stumbled across a magic combination for catching trout at sunset in the middle of August. The key to the whole matter may be the time of day, but here’s what’s worked for me.
I started fly fishing that evening at about 7:00 pm, casting and switching flies frequently, hoping to catch a few nice rainbows before it got dark. There was a lot of action near the surface, but little for bugs on the top of the water. My guess was they were feeding just below the surface. So I changed tactics, tied on a dry and went for a fast retrieve just below. The result, a few nibbles, even a couple of little ‘bows too small to really count as a fish. So I changed flies, larger and smaller. Retrieved faster and slower and deeper and left and right, and the same results, occasional nibbles. The sun was quickly dropping behind the hill over my right shoulder, and the top water action was starting to die down. Disappointed, I gathered in my line and began the short walk from the far end of the pond to where I had parked my truck.
It was 8:30 now and would soon be getting difficult to see. In the 2 or 3 minutes it took to walk the length of the pond, the action suddenly increased, and the rises appeared larger than before! I paused! I thought! I took my rod back out of the case and cast my fly about 30 feet out. Fish on! A quick release and another cast. Fish on! That was two fish (and these could legitimately be called fish) in 1-1/2 minutes when I had caught next to nothing in the past 1-1/2 hours. So I continued casting and catching, as the sun disappeared and I could no longer see my line, but I kept catching trout, and they seemed to be increasing with size as it got darker. So I thought to myself, I’m staying here until I tangle or I lose my fly. By the time I finally did tangle, it was 9:45 pm and the stars were shining bright. I was the last to leave the pond that night. Most others had left as the sun was setting and missed all the real activity.
Not sure if this was a one time phenomenon, I was determined to test my theory the next night as well, as all good scientists will do. An experiment which can be replicated has no validity. Therefore, in the interests of science (trout fishing research), I was duty bound to return, Tuesday, Thursday, the following Monday, Tuesday and again Thursday. Each night, the results were the same. A few nibbles, a few trout landed, then just after sunset, success every second or third cast. My belief is that the trout were not so much going after a particular pattern of fly but more on the movement of the fly. The first three nights I tried not to vary the experiment too much, sticking with a pheasant tail nymph each night and using a rapid retrieve just below the surface. Most of the hits came within the first couple of pulls on the line, some the instant the fly hit the water. I did move around the pond, trying shallow and deeper waters, close to and directly away from shore. It didn’t seem to matter, the bite was on everywhere!
This past Monday I decided to try a different pond, one I know holds larger fish. The results were very similar. These last two days I varied the pattern, switching from the pheasant tail nymph to a zug bug to an imitation shrimp. All three patterns about equal in size but varying in color. It didn’t seem to matter. All flies were equally successful. I’ll be returning tomorrow night, well prepared, and experimenting again with a few different fly patterns.
Here’s my advice for fly fishing when the light is starting to diminish. First of all, bring a small flash light. The light will come in handy when you snag your cast, when you tangle your line, when you want to tie on a different fly, and especially when releasing a fish which has taken the fly deep in it’s mouth. As always, it’s easier to release the fish with a barbless hook, or with the hook pinched down. Shorten up your line. You won’t need a lot of line, the fish are as active 10 feet off shore as they are 50 feet off shore. A shorter line leaves less chance of tangling in the dark. A side benefit of casting in the dark is you really learn to cast by feel and get into the rhythm of the cast. The only senses you have are touch, taste, sound, and smell, and three of those don’t help much.